Assert Yourself at EFAM 2014

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According to the New York Times, 40 to 75 percent of people suffer from social anxiety. In fact, it’s the number one social phobia. Do you suffer from social anxiety? Is coming to EFAM causing you worry because you won’t know anyone (or won’t know very many people)? We may be mature adults, but social situations can feel just like high school, looking at the “cool kids” from the outside.

Recently I was speaking at an event where I attended the entire four-day conference, speaking on the final day. I didn’t know a lot of people, and since I hadn’t spoken yet, they didn’t know me either. I found myself in an unusual position, feeling quite shy about networking. As I looked around the room, it appeared as if everyone knew everyone else and no one knew me. Social anxiety overtook me. I am rarely shy and have no hesitation in speaking with strangers (pretty much anywhere). This was unusual for me and I didn’t like it.

It finally occurred to me that there were probably many people at that convention of 1,200 people who were shy, and that many of them probably didn’t know how to assert themselves in this situation.
 

Here are my tips for overcoming shyness for when you are at EFAM this year:

  • Act as if it is your party or gathering. Walk up to others and say “hello.” Don’t wait for them to approach to you (they might be shy as well).
  • Make and hold eye contact with the person you are about to say “hello” to.
  • Smile (seriously, some people forget the basics when they’re nervous).
  • Approach groups of three or more. Unless you know one of them, stay away from groups of two. Sometimes it can be challenging to break into a conversation between two people, especially if they’re well acquainted with one another already.
  • Stop moving if you wish to engage in conversation. If you say “hello” while on the move, your body language is telling the other person you don’t want to chat.
  • Don’t keep looking over the shoulder of the person you are speaking to, or at the door, to see who else is coming into the room. Keep focus on the person you are speaking to (or you risk being considered rude or disinterested).
  • Be sure that it is appropriate to start a conversation, though. If you said “hello” to a person in a group and there was a conversation already going on, you have to be sure you aren’t interrupting it. If the other person says “hello” but breaks eye contact to move back to their group and resume their conversation, move onto another group–this one is busy right now.
  • Take a moment and introduce yourself, and likely everyone else will follow suit. Say your first name clearly (slow down), put a smile on your face, and make it look like you are a friendly person!  “Hi, my name is Rhonda. Your name is?”  “Hi, my name is Rhonda, and this is my first EFAM. Have you been here before?” “Hi, my name is Rhonda and I’m not sure what session to go to next. Which one are you going to?”
     

This seems simple, but it takes confidence (real or pretend) to get the ball rolling. After the introductions you can talk about where they work, the relationship that brought them there, the weather—whatever seems appropriate. If this makes you nervous, think about these topics before you leave home and prepare some conversation pieces.

Keep the conversation going by asking short, open-ended questions. Don’t interrupt and don’t be afraid of pauses either. This may be uncomfortable and it’s even OK to joke about that.

After a couple of minutes, it is OK to meet with other people, drift in another direction or even introduce your new friend to someone else (even if that someone else is someone you met 10 minutes ago!).

 Once you take the steps to assert yourself, and avoid that dreaded social anxiety, you’ll find EFAM is a lot more fun and relaxed. And since I’ll be there the entire time, please come up and say “Hi” to me anytime!

 

Rhonda Scharf is a professional speaker, trainer and author from Ottawa, ON. She has earned a "Certified Speaking Professional" (CSP) designation and is a trusted resource for many professional organizations. Rhonda specializes in helping Administrative Professionals to thrive in their work environment using her useful and relevant advice on administration, communication and workplace effectiveness. During EFAM 2014, she'll be presenting "Assert Yourself" on Wednesday, July 30 at 1:30pm-3:00pm. You can learn more about Rhonda Scharf by visiting her website or connecting with her on facebook and twitter.

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